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Agnetha Fältskog – Wrap Your Arms Around Me

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Going solo must be absolutely bloody terrifying, don’t you think? It’s no wonder Nadine Coyle was so reluctant to let Girls Aloud go given that the battlefield of music is littered with the bloodied corpses of those who tried and failed to make it on their own. The unspoken law of pop is that from a successful band, generally only one member will be granted success, and only then for that indeterminate period of time known as “a bit.”

Generally speaking the one that goes on to have a shiny solo career is usually the person who always hoovered up most of the attention, either by virtue of a) their talent or b) their loudness. So, from column a), only Rachel Stevens from out of S Club 7 went on to have any kind of success, and that was – criminally as it happens because boy was she a great pop star – over and done with in two albums. From column b) you have Abz from out of 5ive, and he was a one single wonder. Sundry Spice Girls have probably done the best, with three out of five scoring post-band number ones. But precisely none of these people are bothering the charts today, so we have to ask ourselves – were their hearts not really in it, or are we just really crap at having good attention spans? It’s a question that’s quite relevant to the lady we’re talking about today –  Agnetha Fältskog.

When Abba quietly ghosted the party in 1982, I never really gave much thought as to what would happen next. To me, Agnetha was absolutely indivisible from Frida, Benny and Björn. I just couldn’t imagine any of them doing anything on their own – and that, I think, is the single biggest problem with going solo. When you have an amazing back catalogue and an enviable chart record, striking out on your own must be the scariest thing imaginable – you’re competing not only with your own history but invariably a rash of younger, newer stars, and on top of that there’s a thousand journalists just dying to point out that you’re not quite what you used to be. That’s why I have a sneaking admiration for all those cast adrift pop stars who don’t even make the attempt – they’re preserving their legacy and simultaneously saving us from some really bad pop.

Agnetha never really made a secret of the fact that she didn’t like touring and was generally uncomfortable with stardom – Frida always seemed like the more natural performer (you only have to look at the way she rocks out in the Dancing Queen video compared to Agnetha’s stately shuffling to know that), and indeed she was first out of the traps with a post-Abba solo album. But in 1983 she turned to Mike Chapman, who’d helped turn Blondie into a monster success with Parallel Lines, for production duty on her first English language LP, Wrap Your Arms Around Me. Some fairly heavyweight songwriters got involved, including Chapman himself, Russ Ballard and Holly Knight – but none of this could prevent a whiff of apathy from creeping in, especially when first single The Heat is On – a sultry and sweaty tropical number – stalled at no.35 in the UK.

Nevertheless, in a rare example of the “it’s broken but we shan’t bother trying to fix it” strategy, the follow up, album title track Wrap Your Arms Around Me, was also sultry and sweaty, although admittedly a bit less tropical. But it was fabulous, and would probably have been a hit had it been given to someone with a bit more oomph about them.

This song plays to every one of its singer’s strengths – it gives her ample room to absolutely soar in terms of her vocals, and it’s really, really needy (“Make love to me now like never before”) – Agnetha has always been pop’s greatest wronged woman, and she’s never better than when she’s singing about being lonely and abandoned. Combine that with strings that curl around her like an amorous Siamese cat and a relentless shuffle that propels the song along in a sort of come-hither way and you have something absolutely irresistible.

But resist it we did – somehow it felt like we’d already forgotten about Abba, having had our heads turned by the likes of Sheena Easton and Kim Wilde. It’s maybe not entirely our fault, as Polydor didn’t fall over themselves to promote it at the time and Agnetha hardly displayed Halliwell levels of promotional enthusiasm. Perhaps her heart really wasn’t in it, or maybe she was still a bit tired after ten years on the Abba bandwagon. But over the years Wrap Your Arms Around Me has grown in stature, to the point where it was given one of those exciting swizzly re-dub things in 2009 which reveals its full glory over eight wonderfully languid minutes. Hooray for the passage of time!

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Entered chart: 06/08/1983

Chart peak: 44

Weeks on chart: 6

Who could sing this today and have a hit? I really fancy letting Shakira have a go at this for some reason.

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